Is the personalisation of cosmetics a gimmick or is it here to stay?

Everybody likes to feel they are special and cosmetics can play a role in achieving that. Skincare and haircare formulations that consumers can mix themselves to their own requirements, make-up shades matched perfectly to skin tone or fragrance bottles engraved with one’s initials are all examples of how personalisation is becoming big business within beauty.

So why are personalised products catching the attention of consumers now? I think that a major reason is due to the overwhelming choice of new and existing products in virtually all product categories. In my Older Women: The Forgotten Demographic 2012 report, research confirmed that too much choice, too many products and unclear signposting are the main complaints amongst women over 45 when shopping for beauty products. Personalised products, however, could be a clever way for marketers to connect with consumers while getting them to trade up to higher value items.

It’s easy to think that personalised or customised beauty is a new trend, but it’s been around for decades in one form or another. Prescriptives, an Estée Lauder Company brand, was launched in 1979 and its novel approach to custom-blended foundations had many fans. You could go up to a Prescriptives counter in a department store and the consultant would whip up the perfect shade of foundation right in front of your eyes. It was more expensive than other “off the shelf” formulations, but not ridiculously so. There was even a machine on the counter which blended your perfect lipstick shade.

Then in 2009, Estée Lauder announced that Prescriptives’ long-term business model was no longer viable given the current environment. Two years later, thanks to pressure from past passionate Prescriptives users, it was relaunched as an online-only brand which proved to be perfect for the digital age. Consumers can still buy into the Custom Blend experience by uploading photos of themselves to determine their “Beauty Print” to create their own bespoke foundation or powder. Unfortunately, bespoke lipstick is no longer an option, though surely this would be a hit with the many women who are frustrated by never quite managing to find their perfect lipstick shade?

Another lesser-known pioneer of personalised cosmetics is Cosmetics a la Carte, which has been offering its bespoke make-up service since 1973. Customers can work with an in-house team of scientists and make-up artists to blend their own foundations, lipsticks, glosses, powders and eyeshadows. It’s a particularly useful service for those who are unable to find the right shade of foundation or lipstick, or who want to add skincare benefits into their formulation, such as UV protection. I find it surprising that this brand isn’t better known.

A variation on this theme comes from Crowd Colour, a brand new idea for make-up consisting of a range of attractive base palettes that hold up to 28 standard size round pans, that the consumer can fill with her desired shades. Neil Philips, founder of Crowd Colour, is funding the product through crowdfunding. In April he will be launching a range of Matte Lip Colours and consumers can design the print for their own tubes, adding patterns or words of their own choice; also new is a range of eye shadow refill pans that can be filled before the consumer designs the cover. Philips points out that make-up is already one of the most custom products you can buy as consumers use products to create their own personalised look. “It is only natural that consumers are going to seek out more ways to customise their make-up and other beauty products in the future,” he predicts.

When Concoctions launched into the UK in 2013, it was the first retail haircare brand to take customisation to a new level. The “mixology” concept came directly from the art of cocktail mixing and when it launched in Selfridges (which has supported a number of personalisation projects, and not just in beauty), there was a mixology bar where customers could order a bespoke shampoo or conditioner blend. Nearly three years on, and the brand has been rebranded to ShampYou, which was already a trademark descriptor and integral part of the proposition. The brand is now licensed for sale in the US. Founder, Alex Epstein is watching over it carefully to make sure the brand DNA and proposition is retained.

These examples demonstrate the many routes available to marketers looking to make their products stand out from the crowd. Some ideas will be perceived as gimmicky but others could well set the tone for a change in marketing approach in the future. Neil Philips predicts that the crowdsourcing trend and the personalisation trend will only get bigger in the beauty industry. “Customers expect more than just the standard offering and they want to know more and more about the products they are using. I have noticed a lot of our savvy customers and beauty bloggers are thinking about creating products and collaborating with brands, and I think this is going to increase. Our plan is to give customers the components and tools to be able to design their very own one of a kind make-up collection.”

But are beauty consumers ready to embrace products they have a say in by putting together? Alex Epstein isn’t so sure. “I must admit I haven’t seen the level of innovation I expected from others since we launched into the market. What I can say is that we’ve been shipping our own products to a lot of the big players worldwide, so I can just picture their R&D departments working very hard behind the scenes on their customised innovation pipelines.” On his part, he’s grateful to have been acknowledged as a pioneer and early innovator in this sector and is looking forward to bringing further concepts, interest and value to the category.

It’s a hugely exciting time for those working on formulations and packaging ideas for beauty and creativity will be in huge demand.

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